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Taking it easy at Lake Powell

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Navajo National Monument turned out to be a nice spot. We had originally not planned to go there, rather ended up there as a base for the night.
Being there we also took one of the hikes and were surprised to see a once more an enormous overhang with cliff dwellings in which Ancestral Puebloans have lived somewhere between 1250 and 1300 when they suddenly left. There still seems to be lots of scientific discussions and speculations around their leaving, with the most likely explanation being an over 10-year drought that the Puebloans took as a sign that it’s time to move further on their journey towards the center.
With the overhang being a bit closer to the valley floor vs what we had seen in Mesa Verde, the whole setup seemed a bit more realistic and I could actually see how a large group of people could live there – warmed by the winter sun in their overhang, while protected from the summer heat at the same time.
The next morning, we headed off to lake Powell. Contrary to our travels up to now, we have a reservation coming up and want to be in Page on Monday to take a tour of Antelope Canyon. So Lake Powell was going to be our base for the next days. As it was a Saturday, we tried to get to the campsite rather early in the day in order to make sure we’ll still get a slot. In retrospect this was not necessary, as the campground at Lone Rock was a huge beach. We picked a slot directly at the beachfront a bit away from the next campers and enjoyed a nice day at the beach.
It was a relaxing day. If it wouldn’t have been for the episodes of hefty wind or rather storm resulting in d a deep skin peeling, a perfect day. Specifically Max enjoyed being at the beach and in the water.

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On Sunday we wanted to go into town. After an easy start into the day and a clean-up session of the van our first destination was Wahwaep campground, just a mile south of where we had stayed. As we longed for a shower, wifi and had a pile of laundry to do, it just made sense to invest in a campground again with all of these services – after all we had not been paying for camping for four nights in a row… After having secured ourselves a slot, we then stopped at Glen Canyon dam and the visitor’s center before going into Page for Sunday lunch.

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At the Mexican restaurant we met three guys from Saaldorf, easily recognizable by the ‘SV Saaldorf’ shirt one of them was wearing. Saaldorf is just around the corner from my home town and used to be and still is one of the standard destinations when we’re going out for lunch with my family. So it was a nice coincidence and we used the opportunity to exchange travel recommendations, as the three had started in Los Angeles and were headed towards Denver and we are headed in the other direction.
Before heading to Horseshoe Bend, we did stock up again our supplies shopping at Safeways. While initially we were a bit put off by the masses of people headed to the Bend, in fact the people dispersed quite quickly and were loosely scattered along the rim. And the sight of the Horseshoe Bend with the blue green band 1000 ft underneath us was absolutely worth it. What a dramatic view and what a nice blue greenish band underneath us!

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While Sam and Max went down to the beach, I did our laundry and uploaded the blog updates from Mesa Verde to Navajo NM. Unfortunately. the wifi was more than poor, so it took ages to upload all the pics. But better than no connection at all – after all we did not have wifi nor network for the last couple of nights. And during the days we usually have more interesting things to do than spending our time where there’s connection to the internet.
The next day started with another stop at the beach before we headed towards Antelope Canyon. We had cancelled our reserved tour the day before after we had heard from our Bavarian acquaintances that they had gone directly to the Lower Antelope Canyon on Saturday and got to go at 11am after just an hour’s worth of waiting. Knowing that around noon the light is best for taking pictures of the canyon and that they paid only 28$ per person whereas our tour would have cost 102$ for the three of us and would have started only at 3:30pm, we figured we’d take the risk. And we were lucky in fact. We got into the canyon shortly before noon and given that only the adults had to pay for much less money than what we’d paid otherwise.
The canyon was amazing! Breathtaking. I’m not sure how many pictures we took between Sam with the wide angle DRL and me with the GoPro. With every bend of the canyon there were new formations and the light playing on the sandstones. I was so happy that we went onto that tour. And even though Sam would probably have loved to take a photographer’s tour, we did get great vistas also on our tour. And we were lucky with our tour guide Tiarnen – he not only had all the information about the canyon, but was also a keen photographer and made sure we got the right pics in the right places.

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I’m really happy that I had insisted on going to Antelope Canyon. It was definitively worth the visit and most likely otherwise we would not have gone to Lake Powell at all. And specifically Max loved the opportunity to play in the sand and water at the beach.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:09 Archived in USA Tagged canyon arizona lake utah antelope powell Comments (2)

Birthday celebrations in Tombstone

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 41 °C
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It’s Sam birthday. So we planned for an easy day and kept the Mexican border formalities for the next day…
After a nice omelette in the morning Sam and Max explored the playground. As it had only little to offer, they soon switched their preferences and went to the pool where they pretty much stayed until it was time to check out. A quick stop at Walmart’s ensured that we had a birthday cake – unfortunately Sam’s favourite apple pie was not on stock, so he had to go for the cherry pie.
And then we got to Tombstone. What used to be a bustling silver mining town back in the 1880’s is now a Western town renowned for its enactments of historical gunfights and for visitors and people living there dressing up just like in the old days. It sounded like a fun place to be and a perfect place for celebrating a birthday (thanks for the recommendation to go there, Rainer and Ulrike!). Our first stop was in fact to see a gun fight – a comedy one as we were promised. And it was fun and we had lots of good laughs.

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But also just strolling through the streets was really nice – there were lots of people looking like they were about to star in the next Western movie and all of that in a really nice scenery. What looked like real life was obviously a lot of acting and really nice costumes. When we had a conversation with one of the cowboys who had been starring in the gunfight, we found out that what looked like a local actor, was actually a long term traveller: he had given up his home after years of working with mentally ill people and later as a professional photographer and now travelled the world together with his dog. He travels on his BMW GS1200 and the dog travels in a side car. He somehow tried the acting and had been doing that for a month. Still, he did not know how long he’d be staying around from there on and where he’d be headed next.

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Eventually it was time to have lunch: a huge burger for Sam, french fries for Max and cheese enchiladas for me. This was actually enough food, but probably it was the name that made us order ‘Death by chocolate’ as a desert. And even though no one of us was really hungry anymore, the portion was gone in what seems like a split second – and we even forgot to take a picture of it before it was all eaten up.

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In a last stop before leaving Tombstone, we went to the Boothill Cemetery. What at first looks funny with lots of signs in the graveyard starring statements like ‘shot by…’, murdered, ‘killed by Indians’, ‘hanged’ or ‘hanged by mistake’ is actually an awful reminder that the old times were in fact very dangerous times and that it was most probably not really fun to live back in these times.

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Our campground for the evening was in Patagonia Lake State Park and it was a real pleasure to cool off in the lake after a hot day.

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One once Max was sleeping soundly in the back of the van, we enjoyed the starry sky and had an attempt at taking some pictures of the stars. The attempt was fun and ended with a long shopping list of equipment that would enable taking really nice pictures of the milky way – given that we came up with a total bill of almost 10,000$ to do that, we concluded that we’d be happy for the time being with those pictures we were getting. And Sam started considering that instead of buying an enduro bike upon his return to Europe, this could be an alternative option for investing his money... With that we went to bed - most likely our last night in the US for a couple of weeks.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 08:18 Archived in USA Tagged lake dinner birthday cowboy tombstone Comments (1)

Utah’s spectacular (& crowded) national parks

Quail Creek State Park, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Torrey

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Quite frankly, even at the risk of being very unfair to the state of Nevada, there’s nothing else we did there beyond visiting Las Vegas. And interestingly enough, the nice and interesting landscapes started just after we passed the borderline to Arizona (just for a couple of miles) and then shortly after to Utah.
We had a base plan in regards to where to stay overnight. Freecampsites.net features a nice place just before the entrance to Zion National Park and that’s where we wanted to go. After all, it was Saturday in the middle of vacation season and consequently all reservation campgrounds in the National Park were full and the recommendation for getting a first come – first serve campground was to be there between 5 and 6am: so clearly not an option for us.
As usual, we took opportunities as they came along and wanted to try our luck at a KOA campground close to St. George. On the way there, we passed a Quail Creek State Park and realized that it was beautifully located next to a lake and had nice shaded tables at all campsites. So we tried our luck and could hardly believe it that a) there were still spaces available and b) the single electrical hook up site was still available as well. Great – this way we’d be able to have our air-con running in the can tonight such that temperatures will be bearable.

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After a dip in the lake, Sam impressed me with some great car fixing. He installed the pieces for the doors we had ordered to the KOA in Las Vegas using his small, but flexible tool kit. And now our side door works again – hooray!

The next day, we were quite positively surprised that we still got a campsite at Zion National Park’s South campground. Lucky us… So we immediately reserved for two nights, set up camp and then headed off to explore the Visitor Center and the Pa’rus Trail. Given the heat we eventually took a right turn down to the Virgin River where we spent the rest of the day hanging out in and around the water.
In the evening we invited Ralf, a German motorbiker who moved to the US already years ago after winning a green-card in the lottery. It proved to be an excellent decision to invite him to join us on our site – he has travelled pretty much all of the western states of the US and Canada and was happy to share lots of tips and recommendations with us. So with his help, we were able to get a feeling what to see and visit specifically on our way from Moab to Yellowstone and then onwards from there to Seattle / Vancouver.
The next day was dedicated to exploring the Zion valley. The views of the sheer rock faces to both sides of the valley were really impressive. But less impressive were the masses of people being shuttled by bus from one viewpoint to the next. We chose the Riverside Walk that is leading to the Narrows – a walk that I had hiked already some 23 years ago. And either my memory was playing tricks on me or something about it was different this time. But while I clearly recall other people taking the hike and then continuing onwards through the river (which back then impressed me very, very much), this time it felt that we were walking the streets of a busy city – that’s how crowded it was. Unfortunately not much fun. And even though we might have found a bit more solitude on some other walks, by the time we got back to the shuttle bus, we rather wanted to just get out of the masses and back to our nice campground and eventually to a spot in the river to cool off.

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On our way out of the park in the next morning we got to see some nice vistas of the valley from above. And while very different from the valley floor, we really liked the landscape up there very much. We would have loved to go for the Valley Overview Trail, but due to lack of parking spots and enormous traffic in that location, there was simply no chance at all to do it.

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Thus we continued our journey through some absolutely nice landscapes towards Bryce Canyon. On our way we could not resist the temptation to stop at a German Bakery to get a loaf of ‘real’ German bread – the price was outrageous by German standards, but the taste was absolutely worth it.
Eventually we passed Red Canyon which featured stunning colors even in the midday sun. Soon after we reached Bryce Canyon and once again were lucky to still get a campground in early afternoon. But as soon as the spot was secured, it was time to explore the sights of the national park.

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Unfortunately, some clouds had formed, bringing not only a bit of rain, but also thunderstorms.
Before heading to the main and most popular viewpoints, we took the scenic route to the southern end of the park at Rainbow Point. All of us were freezing and were simply not used to not seeing the sun and getting wet – after all had seen our last 30 min episode of trickly rain in La Paz, Mexico and the last real rain back at Mesa Verde in mid-May.

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By the time we worked our way up again towards Inspiration Point, on the of the main viewpoints in the park, the sun was out again and we got to the probably the best view the park has to offer in perfect light and at pleasant temperatures again.

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Given that our campground was very close to Inspiration Point, we took another hike there later towards sunset and were there just in time for perfect light.

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The other big asset of Bryce Canyon next to its spectacular ‘hoodoos’ – that’s how the columns in the park are called – is the clear and dark nightly sky. Sam took a shot at trying to get some shots of the milky way to match the ones he had taken back in Mexico. He was very pleased with the results and to his big pride even managed to catch a shooting star in one of the pictures.

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The next morning was dedicated to driving along the Scenic Byway 12. And yes, it was very scenic giving lots of reasons to stop and take pictures. We specifically liked the views of the Staircase Escalante – a very remote wilderness.
We had planned to go all the way to Capitol Reef National Park and therefore did not take any of the many detours the Scenic Byway had on offer. And given all the switchbacks and curves along the way we did not nearly progress as fast as we had anticipated. So eventually after a stop in Bicknell to get a car part exchanged and our parking brake adjusted on the van, we resorted to stay in Torrey for the night. After a couple of days in national park campgrounds it was time again for a proper shower and we looked forward to having some wifi (which was in vain, as it did not really work). Still, the facilities with pool, basketball court and a large area for kids to play ballgames was worth the investment.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in USA Tagged rain lake valley wilderness crowd zion thunder bryce escalante viewpoint Comments (1)

Driving towards the Grand Tetons

Dinosaur NM, Flaming Gorge, Big Sandy, Jackson Hole, Grand Teton NP

semi-overcast 25 °C
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After our couple of days in Moab and surroundings our next big destination will be Yellowstone. There is no real must do tourist attraction along the way and we had not been sure for a long time if we should go via Salt Lake City or rather via Flaming Gorge. Ralf, our camping partner in Zion NP, convinced us that we’ll not regret it to pass by the Flaming Gorge and that’s what we wanted to do.
Our first travel day after a couple of days was dominated by the drive to Dinosaur National Monument, one of the biggest sites for dinosaur fossils. The fossil wall showing more than 1500 bones in their original position was very impressive. Unfortunately, the place was not really catering to the interests of kids, such that alternating Sam and I had to keep Max entertained. So we did not stay too long before heading on to our campground for the night.

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Once again we had a day of driving ahead of us with the Flaming Gorge being the highlight of that stretch. While most of the Flaming Gorge is now hidden by the large reservoir, there was still enough left to make a great impression on us.

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Eventually we went along the western shore line and eventually stopped at Big Sandy Reservoir for the night.
We did not expect too much of the location, but were amazed: we found a spot directly above the water. There was no wind at all and the lake lay in front of us like a mirror. And it was so quiet! We’ve been at many locations so far, but this struck us as one of the quietest places we’ve ever encountered. And it was also so remote that it was really dark at night such that once again we got treated to a nice view of the milky way.

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And finally on Friday we arrived in the early afternoon at Jackson, the gateway to the Grand Teton National Park. As we did not have a reservation for the night, we considered ourselves quite lucky to still get a slot in the Gros Ventre Campground along the southern boundary of the park.
We spent the rest of the day just taking it easy at our camp. And we were lucky to have with Terry and Lorrie great neighbors with whom we spent the evening playing Quirkle and Farkle. While Sam and I had been playing card and dice games quite a bit together, it was fun to play with others and to play different games again. So we just enjoyed and ignored our original plan of uploading Sam’s edited pictures and publishing the next blog posts. The posts will have to wait.
We spent the full next day to explore the park. Along the back roads we discovered a herd of bison. They were pretty unimpressed by us and enjoyed grazing against the backdrop of the Grand Teton mountains.

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For lunch we went down to the Snake River such that we could also observe the rafts starting and passing by in the river.
Approaching Jackson Lake and getting closer to the mountains, the clouds started drawing in. By the time we saw the first views of Jenny Lake along the trail we’d been hiking from String Lake thunder startled us and forced us to return to the car. On our way back to the campground Sam took a couple of attempts to catch lightning in a picture and was lucky in one of them.

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We’d been hoping to see some moose on the way back. While we did not get to see any moose, we were rewarded by seeing a rainbow.

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And as Max had been very patient over the last couple of days with the lots of driving we had done, he got the full next day to do just activities he likes. So he got to throw stones into Slide Lake and play lots of Lego. The alternating rain and thunderstorms did not allow for too many outside activities anyhow, so this was a fun and relaxing way to fill the day.
Eventually the rain subsided and we headed to Teton Village to take the free gondola up the mountain – a recommendation Lorrie and Terry had given us. By the time we got there, the sun was coming through the clouds nicely again. Already on our way up with the gondola we got to see a couple of marmots and a deer.
We enjoyed the view from the top, but did not wait too long before heading down again. With more than 3000 ft to descend at after 5pm, we rather wanted to get started. Once again we got to see marmots, lots of squirrels and chipmunks. Half way down the mountain, there was a trickle of rain and enough distant thunder to scare us. Luckily enough the sun came back again after a while and we were able to just enjoy the hike down.

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On our way back to the campsite we had hoped to spot some moose in the evening light. But despite some observing, we only got to see lots of deer and no moose. So we’ll just need to wait and see if we’ll see some of them in Yellowstone then, where we’ll head to tomorrow.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:51 Archived in USA Tagged mountain lake hike gondola bison bone dinosaur teton silence Comments (1)

Traffic jams in fascinating Yellowstone

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 28 °C
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We left the Grand Tetons early in the morning, as we wanted to have a chance to get a spot for the next two nights at the first come – first serve campground at Lewis Lake. The last two days it had filled by 2pm, so with being there around 10:30am, we figured we should be fine.
While the theory sounds good, practical life proved us wrong. We had not factored into our equation the long waiting time to even get into the national park, nor the fact that on this Monday morning Lewis Lake should already be full at 10:49am. Fine, so a change of plans was needed. We decided to spend our day to explore the south western bit of the park to see Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring and to head out of the park to West Yellowstone to find a campground for the night.
Old Faithful performed as expected: shortly after 1:17pm we were among the big crowd of people watching it erupt nicely. After a couple of minutes, the show was over and within minutes the area was empty again, as people had dispersed in all directions.

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We headed off as well and hiked along the bike path and a boardwalk to see more of the geysers and hot pools of the area. All over the place there was something going on: geysers were spitting steam, hot pools were boiling and there was just a fine note of sulfur in the air.

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At Biscuit Basin the looks of emerald pool were tempting us to take a dip. But looks can be deceiving: we probably would not have enjoyed being boiled in there and anyhow there were enough signs around to tell us that leaving the boardwalk is not only dangerous, but also unlawful. So we enjoyed the looks of the volcanic features without touching or getting closer.

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Our next stop was supposed to be the Midway Basin, the location of the Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones with this plan. And many others before us were so adamant to stick to their plan that by waiting in the left lane to turn, they caused an enormous traffic jam which backed up more than a mile. Eventually we figured that with us being stuck in traffic anyhow, Sam should have a goo on foot to see the Spring, while Max and I stayed in the car, inching our way forward very slowly. Eventually Sam got back to the car and we headed on to our last destination for the day, the volcanic features along Firehole Loop Drive.

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And then it was time to leave the park in order to find a place to stay for the night. The drive from Madison junction to West Yellowstone is just 14 miles / 23 km, but it took us well over an hour to cover the distance. We’re not really sure why we were stuck in an enormous traffic jam again, but we suspect that it was either people watching some deer or some deer crossing or standing on the road. Still, no matter what it was, as we were quite tired and keen to get to a campground, we were really happy once traffic started moving again.
We tried our luck at a National Forest Campground north of West Yellowstone, which was full already. As the next free governmental (and consequently affordable) campground would have been over 20 miles further, we opted for a private one 5 miles down a gravel road. It was just already way too late for another long drive.

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At night I tried my luck to still reserve a space in a campground in Yellowstone, such that we’d not have to go through the ordeal of getting out of the park just to get in again the next morning. It seemed that there was still availability at Fishing Bridge RV Park (where we had already a reservation for Wednesday night), but somehow I did not manage to reserve it and half an hour later, even that one slot was already gone. Hmmm….
The next morning, I used the WIFI at the campground and spent lots of time on German tax questions. That is not really what I consider fun and it’s just so energy draining. So I was happy when I was done. And it felt like a reward for the work I had done, when I got a call from someone in Yellowstone welcoming me for this evening to stay at Fishing Bridge RV Park. Somehow I must have managed to reserve a site after all and just did not see the confirmation page or got a confirmatory email.
That was so great news! After our first experiences with traffic in Yellowstone we were already at the point to just spend a day outside of the park without having a reservation inside… But now, as we had a reservation after all, we were ready to hit the road, get some groceries and gas in West Yellowstone and to explore the area between Madison and Norris. We stopped at all the key sites along the way: Terrace Springs, Gibbon Falls, Beryl Spring and Artists Paintpots.

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Still, the best came last: a stop at Norris Geyser Basin, which is the hottest one in Yellowstone. It features not only geysers and hot pools, but also fumaroles and mud pools, i.e. all types of volcanic that exist. The landscape was fascinating and we were happy that we had made the stop at Norris.

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From there it was only a short drive via Canyon to Fishing Bridge through the Hayden Valley which is one of the prime spots for wildlife viewing in Yellowstone. We figured that it was perfect timing to go through the valley in the late afternoon / early evening as we hoped to see some wildlife.
And yes, our plan worked out. We got to do much more wildlife viewing than what we expected. It took us over 2 hours to drive the 16 mile / 25 km stretch from Canyon to Fishing Bridge, as we got stuck in a gigantic traffic jam.
While traffic was still moving, we got to see already the first bison in the distance. When traffic first started stopping, we attributed that to the three dark wolves up in the hills and the grey / white wolf just on the other side of the Yellowstone River. But after we had passed the craziness of that bottleneck, traffic did not get better, but worse. It got to the point that we only got to move forward the distance of those cars in front of us which gave up and turned around.

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So we opened our roof and Sam started heating up the remainder of yesterday’s soup. After all we were standing more than driving and when moving our speed did not surpass 2 mph anyhow.
Eventually Sam and Max headed off to get some exercise along the road. With Max biking and Sam running, I soon lost sight of them as they passed the cars in front of me. A bit later I got to see lots of ducks and Canadian wild geese along the river and eventually in the rear view mirror a couple of bison. And to keep myself busy in this somewhat frustrating standstill, I at least took a couple of pictures.

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Some more time passed and, a guy that eventually had started running along the traffic jam just like Max and Sam came back and reported to everyone who was interested the reason for the traffic jam: a big herd of bison was crossing the road somewhere in front of us and as they were not just crossing, but also idling on the road, there was simply no way to move forward. I must say that it was a big relief to hear that it was wildlife stopping us and not necessarily just sightseeing tourists. Even though realistically it is always a combination, as those people close to the wildlife cannot hesitate to take pictures and consequently slow everything down.
A couple of hundred yards / meters before the actual bottleneck Sam and Max waited for me and got back into the car. And eventually we started moving again and got to our campground around 9:30pm, so much later vs. what we had planned for.
After so much driving and so many traffic jams we were a bit hesitant about how to spend the day. The ranger at the information center convinced us that our plan of going to Canyon to see the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a must see item. You should not have come all the way to Yellowstone without having seen that… So after spending a bit of time on the beach of Lake Yellowstone, back we went through the Hayden Valley to do as he suggested. And this time we were held up a bit by sightseeing tourists just stopping in the road or partly blocking the roadway, but it was just so much better than the day before. We did stop ourselves a couple of times at various pull-outs to take pictures and observe the wildlife. We specifically liked to watch the bison. With their huge size they are just impressive and at the same time they are surprisingly fast when chasing a competitor or their preferred female – after all this time of the year is mating season for them.

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The Upper Yellowstone Falls from Uncle Tom’s Point along the South Rim were already quite impressive. But nothing could beat the view of the much higher (300 ft / 100 m) Lower Yellowstone Falls from the bottom of Uncle Tom’s trail. It was quite an adventure to get down the over 300 steps and steep grades, but the view was definitively worth it – specifically as the sun was coming in at such an angle that part of the waterfall looked just light green instead of white.

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After having seen the Lower Falls so close, we still wanted to see how they look from the Artists Point Overview. While the view was nice, we were not too impressed by the crowds of people there and left quickly after having taken a couple of pictures.

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The way back to camp proved to be much more relaxed and fast than yesterday evening and despite a bit of backed up traffic here and there, we got to Fishing Bridge in a mere 35 min.
Our next day in Yellowstone was dedicated to the Northern part which we had not seen so far. So we went up through the mountains along Mt. Washburn and the Yellowstone river to Mammoth Hot Springs. As the campground there was full by the time we arrived, this would be our last day in the park.
So we visited the lower and upper terraces – a phenomenon we had not seen so far. With their lively colors and a constant stream of hot water trickling down the active springs, it was a really nice sight. But also the older and now dormant features were quite impressive – a white and grey landscape surrounding dead trees.

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And with that it was time to say good bye to Yellowstone and to head towards the next adventures.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:00 Archived in USA Tagged traffic lake terrace spring geyser yellowstone elk wolf bison jam sulphur Comments (0)

Through the Rockies on our way to the Pacific Northwest

Livingston, Anaconda, Granite, Coeur d' Alene, Spokane, Ellensburg

sunny 24 °C
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Our plan was to leave Yellowstone via the Northeast Exit and to drive along the Beartooth Highway. We had already gotten that recommendation from the French couple we had met in Loreto, once more from Ralf in Zion and it was also featured as a spectacular diversion in Janis’ National Park magazine.
Still, after looking at the map and realizing it would be more than a 200 mile / 300 km detour and factoring in that it was starting to rain heavily when we left Mammoth Hot Springs, we decided to skip the Beartooth Pass. I guess that with the over 9000 miles we’ve driven so far and Max still not being a real fan of long drives, we have gotten a bit more conscious about distances and the difference in mileage we can make on small windy roads vs. the interstates.
So the new plan now foresees to leave Yellowstone via the North Entrance, getting on the interstate in Livingston and heading due West via Idaho to Washington. This plan also results in skipping beautiful Glacier National Park in favor of having more time to spend at Mt Rainier and Olympic National Parks. Unfortunately, even with five months to spend in North America, we have to make choices and it’s simply not possible to see everything we’d love to see.
By the time we arrived at our beautiful campground at Mallard’s Rest 42 miles north of the park exit right next to the Yellowstone River, the heavy rain had stopped and there were only the clouds remaining.

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We hoped that by night time they’d be gone such that we could observe the Perseid meteor showers. And we were lucky indeed, around 11 pm most clouds had disappeared and we got to see significantly bigger and lighter shooting stars than so far on our journey – in fact the nicest ones both Sam and I have ever seen so far.
The next day no one of us was keen to leave. So we took it easy and enjoyed our lovely campground for a bit longer. Eventually hunger made us leave after all and Rosa’s Pizza in Livingston came just at the right time to help us out.
Sam had picked the Lost Creek State Park for camping this night via our map. As we pretty much did not have much network reception and internet since back in Moab, we could not check our usual resources. And as our mobile phone seems to have issues since the update to a newer version of the operating system, also our navigation system Scout let us down, as it did not find the downloaded maps on the SD card anymore. So with just the map as a guide, we did not really have high hopes in finding a campground when there was no camping signposted, just binoculars for wildlife watching. We turned around and rather headed to a national forest campground a bit behind Anaconda.
That way Sam also got to tick one more of the items on his bucket list: he wanted to see a ghost town and close to Philipsburg there was ‘Granite’ up the hill. Despite the recommendation to only go up the road with a vehicle with high clearance (which ours definitively does not have), we went up the 4 steep and windy miles making over 1200 ft / 400 m within that relatively short distance. The road was relatively good (much better than what we had encountered in Mexico around Coco’s Corner) and we made it without any issues.
There were still quite a couple of buildings around – all of them in more or less desolate states. After all, the main exploitation of the mine with more than 3000 miners living there had taken place already over 100 years ago. And since then nature was allowed to take over again.

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But as there was not too much to see with many buildings simply being destroyed over the years and probably some wildfires, we left again and made our way down the steep grade. And even though it felt like we had been sitting in the car already for ages, we only really started getting moving once we had reached the interstate.
As we were only going to pass a very short stretch of Idaho (less than 100 miles), we at least wanted to stay there for a night. The plan was good, the execution less so: what had looked on our famous map like a very short 10-mile detour from the interstate to get to a lakeside campground along Lake Coeur d’Alene, turned out to be a tiny windy road that did not end and did not get us to where we wanted. And after an hours’ worth of driving and seemingly just being half way of where we wanted to get to, we turned around with a bit of frustration.
At least we were lucky then to get a spot at the campground at Wolf’s Lodge – at a cheaper rate than the KOA in Spokane we had called and with better services. And the first activity was to use the WIFI and to install the Washington map again on the mobile phone, such that as of tomorrow we’d be able to do better planning again. And then we headed with Max to the kids’ puppet-theater and games evening. He had lots of fun and was really proud once he got his new football as a prize.
The next day I requested to spend a day in a mall. We’ve had enough landscapes and nature around us and this felt just like the right change in scenery and atmosphere. And so the Spokane Valley Mall was the perfect opportunity to see how many Americans spend their Sunday, but as well to get new sandals for all of us.
We spent so much time in the mall that we did not want to go much further to find a place for the night. So when we saw the signs at the interstate in Spokane towards the Riverside State Park, we simply took the exit and eventually got a space at the Pitcher and Bowl area of the park.

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So after having spent most of the day inside, we got the opportunity to hike a bit, to throw stones into the river and building some dams.
The next morning, we eventually headed on towards Western Washington. We were amazed – after weeks and weeks of having poor to no mobile phone reception, we suddenly had continuous excellent phone connection all along the highways even far from the next towns. The last time we were able to enjoy that luxury was probably along the densely populated stretches of the California coast. We used the opportunity to make some calls and research while driving. While I’d consider myself not necessarily dependent on a mobile phone, it still proves to come in very handy when trip planning. And it helps to save tons of money when being able to research free vs. governmental vs. private camping options. So it felt relieving to see that I had my planning tools back at my disposition again.
We eventually stopped in Ellensburg for the night. Even though we were a bit disappointed when we realized that the pool of the KOA was defect and closed, we consoled ourselves with the fact that we had a really nice location under big shady trees next to a very fast flowing river. A nice spot to stay and figure out where to go next…

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:51 Archived in USA Tagged town shopping lake river mall drive ghost yellowstone idaho reception Comments (1)

Exploring the Olympic Peninsula with Janis

Sequim Bay State Park, Hurricane ridge, Fairholme campground at Lake Crescent, Sol Duc Hot Springs, Hoh rain forest, Forks

sunny 24 °C
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The next morning, we headed north from Mt. Rainier towards the Olympic Peninsula to meet Janis. Around noon we finally managed to get a signal on the mobile phone again and got Janis’ update that she had landed well and was already on the ferry looking forward to meet us at the reserved campground in Sequim Bay State Park. Just a bit later we pulled into the state park ourselves and there she was.
Wow – we’ve seen a lot in the almost four months since leaving her place in Chicago and had many stories to tell. And Janis had lots of things to tell us as well, such that we’d have enough to talk about in the coming week.
The state park was really nice with a view towards the blue waters of Sequim Bay. As we realized down at the small beach, we’d even be able to legally catch crabs there. Well, except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And in addition as it’s only allowed to take male crabs, we would have needed to know how to distinguish male from female crabs… So we just admired the view and had a nice barbecue for dinner. To do so we had to borrow the neighbors’ barbecue grill, as unfortunately due to the drought the county had declared a fire ban.
The next day we started to explore Hurricane Ridge - our first venture into Olympic National Park. The ridge offered not only sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the ocean, but also the view to one of the wildfires raging in the park. We were amazed about the sheer amounts of ash creating enormous clouds.

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As usual we popped up the roof of our camper when preparing lunch, which attracted the attention of people walking and driving by. And once again this resulted in a quick tour of the van and its multiple features. Once that mission was accomplished and we had created enough envy, it was time to explore some of the trails up on the ridge before enjoying afternoon tea (and cake) at one of Port Angeles’ skate parks.

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After one more night in Sequim Bay, we moved on to Lake Crescent. It was August 25th, the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and consequently there were several special activities taking place at the Storm King Ranger Station. Even though it was tempting to stay longer, we had a mission to accomplish: we continued to the western shore of the lake in order to set up camp at Fairholme campground. And we were lucky to still get a nice spot in what seemed to be an ancient forest adorned by giant Douglas fir, hemlock spruce, ferns and mosses.

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We immediately fell in love with the beautiful campground and it did not take long to decide that we’d extend our stay to two nights. And as it was just nice sitting at the lake shore and enjoying the view, we just moved our plan to go to Sol Duc Hot Springs to the next day.

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This allowed us to leave for Sol Duc still in the morning and before too long we found ourselves soaking in one of the hot pools. In an attempt of bravery, we went to the cool fresh water pool first, but it did not take long to realize that 72 °F is just a bit too cold for being comfortable. To warm up for a start we chose the coolest one of the hot pools at 97 °F, but before too long we also tried the 104 °F one. And yes, it was very pleasant soaking there in the sunshine in a wide forested valley.
And we even managed to take a hike along the Sol Duc River after our baths – even though we had already predicted that we might be too lazy and tired afterwards. While the hike we nice, it was not nearly as fascinating as the Grove of the Ancients Trail we on the way out of the valley. We were really impressed by the huge ancient trees – about 700-year-old sentinels mixed in with younger trees and young growth starting on the decaying trunks of fallen trees.

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After another night at Fairholme and discovering also the nice campground trail there, it was time to leave. Our next destination was Forks, the location of the ‘Twilight’ novel and movies. Presumably Forks is one of the wettest places in the continental United States. Not surprisingly, it was drizzling by the time we arrived and it was significantly colder than it had been further east.
We were not surprised – after all our day trip was to Hoh rain forest and quite obviously there needs to be a lot of rain to support a rain forest. Even though we had seen already quite a lot of ancient forests in the last days, the rain forest was really amazing: long mosses hanging down from the trees and lot of fern all over the place. Still it was most impressing to see how young trees start growing on the fallen 200+ ft. logs. What looks cute initially eventually ends with gigantic trees all standing side by side. Most of them feature big cave like openings underneath – proof for a long decayed host tree they started growing on hundreds of years ago.

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It was only after we had done our (quite expensive) shopping at the local Thriftway grocery store, that we found out two pieces of trivia about it: they claim to be located in the western most shopping center of the continental US and this is the place where Twilight character Bella works and shops.
Our next venture took us to the airport to check out the ‘Hot Thunder Night’ and were disappointed that there was absolutely nothing going on. As the BBQ place we wanted to go to did not admit anyone below 21, we had to go back towards the town center. And lucky us: otherwise we might not have realized that this was where the Hot Thunder Night took place. The main street running through town – the US 101 – was blocked off and as we approached the start of the detour, we already saw a car doing a burn out and producing big clouds of burnt rubber in the process.
We parked and had a look at this spectacle which seems to be taken straight out of an old movie scene.

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Anything from vintage car, hot rod, old pimped car, motorbike and modern pickup truck took the challenge to spin the wheels along main street under the cheer of the crowd. The excitement was big – especially for the kids who were racing towards the hot asphalt after each round.

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After we had seen enough and gaped at the donut one of the cars made instead of just going straight like everyone else, it was time to warm up and have food. We were lucky to get one of the window seats at the adjacent Chinese restaurant, such that we could continue watching the spectacle. It was a fun evening and accompanied by the sound of Queen’s ‘We will rock you’ we eventually headed home.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:41 Archived in USA Tagged rainforest springs park lake tree national fire hot out twilight ridge fern olympic janis Comments (2)

Back home already? Germans everywhere

Lake Country, Barrière, Grey Wells Provincial Park

semi-overcast 13 °C
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We had happily arrived in Lake Country and picked a spot at the Wood Lake Campground. Even though it was Saturday evening of the long Labor Day weekend, we had no trouble at all getting a spot. So lucky us!
And we had already a plan in mind what to do: even though it had probably never occurred to us that Canada is a wine producing country, it is. And as we had not done so in any of the previous wine regions we came through, this time we wanted to go for some wine tasting. Our campground was ideally positioned for that plan, such that we only had to drive for a very short distance. After a very nice tasting session at Intrigue Wines and getting a bottle of their beautiful Gewürztraminer, we headed to Blind Tiger. While nicely positioned on the crest of a hill, we were neither impressed by the people there, nor by the wines.

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So we quickly headed on again: Arrowleaf treated us to an excellent view of the lake from their terrace and lawns and we also liked their Bacchus, but we kept the best for last: The Grey Monk Estate Vinery. They seem to be the oldest and most established vinery in BC, founded some 25 years ago by Germans. And also Heidi, the lady serving us our tastings, had German roots. We liked their wines best of all we had tasted so far, so once again got another bottle to take with us for a special occasion.

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Back at the campground it was already time for dinner. Luckily enough, with all the rain of the last couple of days the fireban had been lifted and we were able to light a campfire and have corn on the cob and sausages from the BBQ.
Max spent the next morning at the playground while we were getting the van ready to leave. When checking on him, I noticed a German family just next to the playground with a truck and trailer that did not look like the usual rental equipment. We soon found out that they’ve been living in Canada for the last eight years and invited them over to our van. While Max played with his new friend Aiyana, Carola and Uwe supplied us with lots of ideas and recommendations on where to go and what to visit. So our original plan of heading towards Revelstoke was dumped pretty quickly and we decided to head up towards Clearwater and the Grey Wells Provincial Park.
After a mandatory stop at one of the many produce stands along the road, we were stocked up with local fruit and vegetables and headed towards Kamloops and then through the very scenic North Thompson valley. Passing through the small town of Barrière we noticed a large sign along the road advertising the rodeo taking place on Labor Day weekend. We could not resist to change our plans once more and to have a look.
We were quite lucky: arriving at 4:15pm we did not have to pay an entrance fee anymore and still got to see quite a variety of rodeo disciplines. Initially, we were treated to ‘Junior Breakaway Roping’ followed by ‘Team Roping’. It was quite impressive to see how good people did in targeting to catch a running calf. And especially how hard it is in the team event to catch it both around the neck as well as around one of the hind legs.

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Next on the agenda was the bull riding event. I’m sure that I would never ever dare to get even close to one of these massive bulls – what a huge packet of muscles! While it was interesting to see, how excited the crowd around us got during the bull riding, I’m quite sure that I’d never get to be a fan of that discipline. After all, the bulls just looked really tormented in the process.

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The following chuck wagon races were much more fun. Seeing them race around the track and three of them coming next to each other around the corner, was quite a sight. The excitement and fun of the chuck wagon races was over way too quickly. And quite frankly, the heavy horses that followed – kind of a tractor pulling event with horses instead of tractors – was rather boring in comparison.

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So we headed out of the arena to check out the other entertainment provided, such as food: Sam went for mini donuts, I got a ‘haystack’ (which I’d have described as taco salad) and Max was excited about his multi-colored ‘Rainbow’ icecream. Last but not least, we stopped at ‘Hilde’s Sausage’ to procure some Leberkäse from the butcher who’s been providing German meat products in Canada for the last eight years. And despite the long distance to his former home, he could not resist having the discussion with me, if it is called ‘Leberkäse’ or ‘Fleischkäse’. I used to have the same arguments with the butchers in Crailsheim, so that felt a bit like home.
In the evening we were lucky to still get a campground in town despite the long Labor Day weekend and the rodeo taking place in town. Camping in Canada seemed suddenly much easier than in the US and more adapted to our traveling style without any reservations (which would not have allowed for any sudden changes in plan, as happened just again today).
The next morning, we continued the Wells Gray Information Center in Clearwater. After getting all information we needed, there was just one of those impossible moments. I suddenly stood right across from Kerstin, a former colleague of mine from Crailsheim who I had not seen probably for the last nine years. Still, despite those years we recognized each other at once with this incredible ‘Kerstin?!?’ and ‘Birgit?!?’. The world is just so small and sometimes you have to be nine time zones away from home to meet your friends. What an encounter!
So we obviously exchanged the latest news from the last years and found out that Kerstin and her husband Sven were headed into the same general direction were fortunate enough to cross paths again three more times during the next couple of days.

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Wells Grey Provincial Park did not make a big effort to impress us with it’s nice weather. Whenever it was not drizzling rain, it was heavily overcast and always looked like the rain might start again any minute. But both the Spahat Falls as well as Helmcken Falls did impress us. Admittedly, we have seen quite a lot of falls already in the last couple of months, but we liked the big bowl both waterfalls had carved behind them. Very nice!

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Given the weather and the fact that the road further into the park was not paved, but gravel only, we would have usually retreated to the campground. But as beginning of September is just the time of the salmon coming back to Clearwater River to spawn, we could not resist continuing to Bailey’s Chute, a small cascade of white water just a bit too high for the salmon to pass. Still, despite the fact that by then the salmon will have went upriver more than 600km and not eaten anything for more than 100 days, some of them have still the energy to try to jump the rapids. The Chinook Salmon is at 22kg one of the largest of its kind and it was really impressive to see them jump. Given the heavy rainfall of the last couple of days, the task was probably even harder than usual, but still enough of them tried fruitlessly in order to eventually give up and spawn a bit further downriver at the horseshoe bend.

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And for all three stops once again we felt surrounded by Germans. Seemingly with school starting again in the US and Canada, there were much less locals traveling than before. And the Wells Gray Provincial Park is probably just a bit too less known for those people doing Canada in five days.

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That evening we could not resist having German food and it was great to enjoy Leberkäse and Kartoffelbrei for dinner. In Germany we have a saying ‘Liebe geht durch den Magen’ which is probably not adequately translated by the word by word transcription of ‘Love goes through the stomach’ – still, there was a feeling of being home just right then and there in the middle of Canada. And eventually a feeling of ‘I’m so stuffed, I guess I should have stopped eating already a while ago’…

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:42 Archived in Canada Tagged salmon lake waterfall germans rodeo produce vinery kerstin Comments (0)

Getting into the Canadian Rockies

Grey Wells PP, Tete Jaune Cache, Jasper NP, Icefields Parkway

overcast 10 °C
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Waking up in Grey Wells Provincial Park in a drizzling rain did not quite feel like this is how Canada should be like. Still, the rain needs to happen at some stage to keep all of the waterfalls in the park supplied with enough water. And Dawson Falls were a very nice sight indeed and despite the fact that they are just 4 miles upstream from Helmcken Falls, quite different.
Given the weather we were not really tempted to go further into the park for kayaking on Clearwater Lake and made our way back to the highway. Just after the crest of a small hill while still in the park, I was suddenly forced to slam the brakes: there was a bear mother standing in the middle of the road with two small cubs. Sam was quick enough to take a picture before the three headed into the forest, hiding so well from view that we have not seen them anymore even though they could not have been more than five meters from the road. That made us wonder how many bears (and other wildlife) we might have passed already without noticing them.

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After a round of shopping and enjoying salmon and berries on a ‘bannock’ (a kind of Indian frybread) the drive north was dominated by rain such that the mountain views were obscured by clouds most of the time.
Luckily, by the time we reached Valemount, the rain had stopped and gave way to even some bits of sunshine. Valemount’s salmon run is taking place two weeks before the one in Gray Wells, but we were lucky enough to still spot a salmon in the spawning area of the local creek – a female protecting her nest. What a different setting vs. the craziness of the Bailey’s Chute we had seen the day before.

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Sam and Max were at least as fascinated by the salon as by the truck and especially the one on its trailer across the road. They would trade in our van in to travel with that truck without any hesitation.

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That evening we followed Uwe and Carola’s recommendation of staying overnight at the campground of the Tete Jaune Lodge. And in fact the location directly next to Fraser River and the facilities were simply great.

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And at the risk of sounding a bit crazy: I was delighted to encounter what I consider ‘normal’ washing machines spinning around a horizontal axis. And yes: our clothes were clean after washing them – even Max’ stuff. Hooray!
The next morning it was quite obvious that it did not make any sense to stop at Mt. Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. Given all the clouds, we simply passed by and were happy at every opportunity to see a bit of the landscape around us.

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Eventually we headed directly into Jasper National Park where we got a spot for the next two nights at Whistler Campground. To Max’ delight the friendly ranger at the gate had made sure we were located right next to a large playground.
After enjoying the pleasantries of our new home location, we headed off for a hike to the Five Lakes. Already on the way there, we were impressed by the nice vistas of rivers with the mountains in the back.

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And once we arrived at the Five Likes, not surprisingly, we had the impression that also there were more Germans than any other nationality. The hike was really nice and Max was even officially allowed to ride his bike on the trail – unlike in the American national parks where almost all trails were officially for hikers only.

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There had been a warning sign at the start of the trail to watch out for bears, as they like to come to this area during berry season. So we made sure to talk loud enough and consequently did not encounter any bears, even though they might have been close by. We did see lots of squirrels though and a couple of smaller animals and insects.

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We enjoyed the solitude of the five small lakes along the trail. At one of them there was even a pair of the red chairs located in especially scenic spots all through Jasper national park.

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On our way back to camp, we noticed a couple of cars parked along the road with people getting out to have a look at an elk. Even though it was a really large male elk and a beautiful sight, we rather stayed away and were even a bit worried about the people getting so close. After all, we had been warned by enough signs about the elk during fall rut season and were cautious not to get too close.
The next morning it was raining and consequently we did not feel like going for any sightseeing in the national park. Instead we took advantage of one of the activities directly at the campground and went geocaching. With a GPS we borrowed from the ranger station we headed off to find the 10 caches hidden all over the campground. And that took quite a while – after all the campground is enormous at 781 spots spread widely in a forest probably a mile long by half a mile wide.

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It was fun finding the locations of the caches and their hiding places. So maybe geocaching is something we’ll continue doing also in other places.
After hiking so much on a rather cool and partially raining day, we had promised to Max that we’d go to the local pool. As usual, he enjoyed being in the water, swimming, jumping and sliding with pure delight.
After dinner (Kaiserschmarrn) that evening Sam set off towards a meadow south of the campground to see if he’ll be able to see any elk during their rut. After a long time of hiding and watching, he eventually returned back to the van having seen no animals at all – not even squirrels. I suspect he had been watched silently by a couple of animals who were doing just as well a great job in hiding themselves, but we’ll never know for sure…

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 08:46 Archived in Canada Tagged salmon lake river pool hike bear geocaching campground rut Comments (1)

Rain and snow – hey, that was not the plan!

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

rain 5 °C
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That last night at Jasper NP we did get awfully cold. Lucky us that our van has a heating system, but as we somehow don’t want it running all night, it did eventually get just too chilly for my taste. Hadn’t we planned our tour route such that we’d be skipping winter this year?
After warming up a bit over breakfast with hot tea and hot chocolate, we headed off towards the Edith Cavell mountain and its Angel glacier. Due to recent rock fall resulting in a sudden flood and mudslide we were not allowed to get close to the lake, so we had to content ourselves with the view from the distance. It was pretty cold up at the glacier and as it had snowed in the night before, we did get to see quite a couple of small avalanches.

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As we were heading south along the Icefields Parkway, which is often dubbed to be one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world, the Athabasca Falls were our next destination. We were lucky to stay dry during our stop there. Despite the lack of sunlight, it was surprising how intense the colors looked.

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And in regards to the scenery, we were impressed by the beautiful mountains on both sides of the huge glacier valley we were driving through. Most likely (certainly) the views would have been even more impressive if there would have been a bit more sunshine. We consoled ourselves with the fact that the nice white snowcaps of the mountains around us were a very pretty sight as well which we would have missed in warmer or nicer weather.

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As we reached the Columbia Icefield, we briefly stopped at the local visitor center, only in order to realize that it is extremely catered to everyone being willing to spend lots of money on commercial tours driving onto the Athabasca glacier and spending a couple of minutes there such they can justify buying T-Shirts and other paraphernalia saying ‘I stood on a glacier’. We skipped the questionable pleasure of doing so and rather hiked to the toe of the glacier in the next morning.

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It was actually a quite scary experience even just to drive down to the parking lot from the visitor center. Every couple of hundred meters there were signs with the year when the glacier’s toe was at that location. Quite frankly, I had not realized that the glacier had started retreating already massively since 1885 when it still reached all the way up to where today the visitor center is located.
But even more impressive was the hike up towards the glacier realizing how much the retreat of the glacier speed up in the more recent past. It was quite a hike from the 1985 sign up to the actual glacier. We hiked over large slabs of stone engraved by the glacial ice. And due to the severe winds and cold rain, I must admit that Max and I did not even complete all of the hike, but headed down again once we had reached an intermediate overlook. Sam continued and was lucky enough to catch a quick episode of sunshine on the bright glacial ice.

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As we moved on the weather got a bit more pleasant again. At least it stopped raining and we got to see a bit of the landscape around us.

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Also at the trail to the Mistaya Canyon we were lucky to have no rain. The canyon reminded us much of the Antelope Canyon in the sense that we saw how the forces of water formed a slot canyon just like there. But other than in Arizona, as long as there are glaciers around in the Canadian mountains, there’s no likelihood that in the near future anyone will be able to wander into these slot canyons without being washed away by the forces of the Athabasca River – one of the three river systems starting in the Columbia Icefield and ending in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.

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Next on our list of destinations was a hike to Peyto Lake, that Ralf had praised already back in Zion when we talked about the Canadian National Parks. Unfortunately, when we got there it was pouring rain and there was no view whatsoever. That was quite a pity and we once again realized at that stage how lucky we had been with the weather so far during our trip. With hardly any days of rain and lots of sunshine, we had been blessed with picture perfect photo opportunities so far. And being spoiled as such, it was a bit hard to accept that we’d simply not get to see one of the highlights of the Icefields Parkway. We did get a look at bow lake though, which was pretty nice as well!

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Luckily enough, our night at Mosquito Creek Campground was absolutely free of mosquitoes. In pouring rain at temperatures just above freezing, they would have had a hard life. We did have it a bit warmer in our van, but we would not have complained about a couple of degrees more.
The next day, we realize how low the snowline had come down during the night. A pretty, but also very cold sight!

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A bit later we did get to see a very still Lake Herbert before heading to Lake Louise.

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Our guidebook claims that Lake Louise is the most visited mountain lake worldwide. Even though I’m doubting the truth of the statement, we were simply amazed about the masses of people we saw there. The massive ‘The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’ did not help either to restore a sense of romance of being at a very beautiful glacial lake. Neither did the weather: it started snowing lightly out of very low hanging clouds.
After a brief look at the lake, we gave up all sightseeing activities and headed to Banff in search of a nice and warm café. We were very happy with that choice. Being in a pleasant place having a hot tea felt much more heart-warming than continuing to be out in the cold.
But our luck was soon to turn: after grocery shopping in Canmore and checking out one of the local skate parks, we headed to our place for the night. We were invited at Carola, Uwe and Aiyana’s who we had met a week earlier in Lake Country.

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We had pizza for dinner, lots of pleasant conversations and Max enjoyed playing with Aiyana until late in the night. It was simply great. And all of us were so happy to spend the night inside in a warm and comfy bed vs. staying outside in temperatures below freezing.
Life is beautiful! Thanks, Uwe, Carola and Aiyana!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 13:56 Archived in Canada Tagged snow rain canyon lake glacier castle icefields freezing Comments (1)

Picture perfect Canadian Rockies

Canmore, Johnston Canyon, Banff, Lake Louise, Radium Hot Springs, Fort Steele

sunny 19 °C
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It was a great night staying inside Uwe, Carola and Aiyana’s house in Canmore. And luckily enough, Carola had a day off that Monday such that she and Aiyana could join us the day to do some hiking. They suggested to go to nearby Johnston Canyon and it was an excellent choice. And the weather was simply perfect!

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The kids enjoyed the climbing and balancing options the trail to the upper falls had to offer and the adults were pleased with the kids entertaining themselves and therefore having enough time to enjoy the views of the canyon and the waterfalls.

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After nice lunch at the Canyon Diner, we headed back towards Banff and Carola was kind enough to stop at multiple occasions such that Sam could take nice pictures of the Rockies in sunshine. What a difference a little sun makes – not only in regards to pictures, but also in terms of our mood. It was great!

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As if the children did not have enough activity already, we got home to Canmore and headed off right away in direction of the local bike park, where Max and Aiyana were racing the hills. Eventually we had to stop them and move on. A herd of deer had come to the park and one of the deer seemed a bit nervous about all the activity going on so close by.

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So we headed back home, where Max and Aiyana had fun playing together and we enjoyed having nice conversations about Germany, Canada, cultural differences and the standards for building houses in both countries. It was a nice evening and we felt sad to say good bye again to our kind hosts. Still, there are good chances to host them again when they’ll be in Germany once we’ll be back, so we’ll be looking forward to that.
Still, Sam and I also took a bit of time to firm up our plans from there on. There were several options and after a bit of brainstorming, we decided to go back to Lake Louise once more to see it again in nice weather and to head on to Radium Hot Springs from there.
We took the scenic drive up to Lake Louise along the old parkway and luckily we did, as otherwise we’d not seen the deer crossing the river.

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Lake Louise looked quite different in nice weather than two days earlier in fog and snow. This time, we had a really nice view of the lake and Victoria glacier in the background. And at the lake shore around the Fairmont hotel, it was very crowded.

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So we did not stay for long down there, but started to hike the 3.6km up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse right away. That was not only a nice hike, but allowed us to get away from the crowds. And we were rewarded by excellent tea and cookies at the teahouse including a breath taking view Lake Agnes in the afternoon sun. And by the time we got back to the lake, there were even a bit less people there. Seems like the bus tours had left by then.

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It was late enough in the afternoon, that we enjoyed the ride through Kootenay National Park to Radium Hot Springs, but did not make any stops or hikes along the way.

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The next morning, we went from the town of Radium Hot Springs back into the National Park to the actual hot springs. And it was really relaxing to enjoy soaking in the hot water.

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After all that soaking and relaxing, we continued towards the south, which proved to be a really nice drive through the Eastern Kootenay Rockies. While we were surrounded by mountains, they were a bit in the distance such that we found ourselves driving through a long hilly landscape. We really liked the area around Lake Columbia and commented to each other that this is the kind of landscape we could see ourselves living in. Well, at least theoretically. I’m not quite sure if we’d really want to live hours away from any larger towns.

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Eventually we reached our campground at Fort Steele, a really nice spot hidden away from any roads. So it was really, really quiet. It was just a very short drive the next morning to get to the Fort Steele Heritage Site, which is more or less an outdoor museum featuring many buildings from the gold rush era. In the years around 1865, gold miners dug more gold out of Wild Horse Creek than in all of California.

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We enjoyed our day at Fort Steele and were happy that we went there. Not all attractions were still operational, but we probably preferred anyhow having less people around and more solitude. Even though the railroad was not active that day, we took the detour to have a look and that side trip clearly paid out.

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Still, eventually we had to take the decision that had been pending for the last couple of days: Option 1 would mean to continue east via Canada, passing through Fernie and then following the trans Canadian highway east towards Regina and Winnipeg. Option 2 would go down into the USA, lead us though Glacier National Park and then east along US highway 2.
We did a bit of research, found out that the Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier NP had just opened again today after a couple of days of being closed due to snow and ice. And we concluded we might as well go there, as we had met so many people on our travels who praised the park. So it was time to say good-bye to Canada on a gorgeous day, wondering when (there’s no question about the if) we’ll be back again.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:12 Archived in Canada Tagged springs canyon fort lake museum sun hike hot outdoor teahouse goldrush Comments (1)

Bye bye mountains, bye bye sightseeing

Whitefish Lake State Park, Glacier National Park

sunny 18 °C
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The first couple of miles back in the US looked just like Canada before the forest subsided and fields took over. We did not feel like driving much longer and eventually turned into Whitefish Lake State Park. It seemed like a nice location right next to the lake – perfectly suited to stay overnight not too far away from Glacier National Park.

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While in principle the above reasoning was right, there’s one major factor we overlooked in our decision taking: the state park was squeezed in between the lake and the railroad tracks. And the railroad tracks were unfortunately more than busy with lots and lots of freight trains all through the night. Still, the lake was nice, we saw a woodpecker, and there were some deer grazing in the park. And Max found enough building materials to build a house for his cars.

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From there it was just a short distance to reach the west entrance to Glacier National Park. We were planning to take the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is famed to be one of the most scenic drives through the Rockies.
It was a nice day to take the drive with a good share of sunshine. Even though it was the shoulder season and a weekday, the road was still very busy. In retrospect we were very happy that we had not gone there on our way from Yellowstone towards Washington, where we would have ended up on a weekend during vacation period. The road started as a nice and easy drive along some lakes and rivers.

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Eventually the road indeed went to the sun: it turned into a narrow and windy road taking us all the way up to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The further we got up, the more impressive were the views of the valleys and mountains below and around us.

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At our lunch location just below Logans Pass we were really impressed: we met a very nice couple and got to talk. Eventually we found out that they were the parents of 13 kids (of which two are adopted) between 32 and 9 years of age. We were thunderstruck. That is just too much to even imagine…

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Eventually we headed up all the way across the Logans Pass and hiked to Hidden Lake Overlook. It was a nice hike and brought us one last time up to the continental divide before we headed down towards St. Mary’s Lake.

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Down at the lake we were extremely lucky and got the last available campsite at the National Park campground. Lucky us! And even more lucky that on our walks through the campground we only encountered fairly fresh bear poo and not the bear that belonged to it.

Glacier National Park had been worthwhile seeing and we’re glad we took the detour vs. having continued straight east within Canada. And it marked a nice end point to our travels to date. Our trip down to St. Mary was the last stretch of road in the mountains, as we’d now be hitting the great plains. And it marks also the end of our sightseeing, as we’ll now try to simply get to the Great Lakes in as little time as possible in order to enjoy two weeks with friends and family.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:27 Archived in USA Tagged mountains lake road sightseeing hike railroad pass whitefish divide Comments (0)

Life in the cabin at the lake

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

semi-overcast 15 °C
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It was a great feeling to know that we had made it all the way to Carol and Pete’s place on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Even though all of us had enjoyed the last months of living in the camper van, none of us was sad to move into a room and sleep in a proper bed. Rather the opposite: We were all really looking forward to some time without any driving and just being in one and the same place.

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And what should I say: it is a really nice place. Once we arrived, Pete and Carol showed us around their cabin and the surroundings. Admittedly, the cabin could probably be also called a house and it is situated very nicely in the woods right above Hagerman Lake. Before even looking around the house, our first destination was the pier with the motorboat, the kayaks, the stand-up paddleboard and the water bike.

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We really enjoyed our days at Carol and Pete’s. There was so much to see and to do that there was no way for getting bored.
Whenever the weather was nice enough to do so, we headed out on the lake. After a short round alone in the kayak, Max decided to rather opt for the motorboat. Even though he clearly wanted to go out alone with the motorboat, he was not allowed to do so. But he really enjoyed going out with Pete and was thrilled to being allowed to even steer the boat himself. Sam preferred the water bike, and I mostly used the kayak.

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Whenever we were not out on the water, we took long hikes through the woods and into the nearby Ottawa National Forest. With Max using his bike, we were able to cover quite some distances. Along the way we found lots of mushrooms - not edible, but very pretty!

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The first couple of days, we enjoyed very nice and sunny fall weather. And with the leaves turning colors, this was a marvelous sight. Not to forget about the fabulous sunsets!

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But there was much more as well to keep us busy: Sam decided to get an appointment with a local dentist. The good news was that he confirmed after an x-ray scan that there only seems to be an irritated nerve and no real major issue.
And we had long expected visitors coming in: Janis arrived on Friday evening with her son Charles and my parents. It was so good to have them around. After all, it had been five months since we last met. Max had been already excited for the last couple of days that his Opa and Oma would be coming. And Sam and I were glad to see how much fun Max had when Pete or his grandparents spent time with him.
But even when the weather turned to be a bit more unpleasant with rainy cool days, there were lots of options to keep us entertained. While Max and Sam built LEGO castles, trucks and star ships, I got started with some puzzles eventually culminating in a 1000-piece puzzle of Yosemite. And once almost everyone had helped to finally get the puzzle completed, we started playing Farkle and Herzeln.

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Had I mentioned already the hot tub and the sauna or the open chimney? The cooler weather was the perfect excuse for our almost daily dip in the hot tub.

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And let me also mention the food: There was also no possible way of ever staying hungry. After breakfast, we did not have to wait too long for lunch. In the afternoons, there was classical German ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ (even though we stuck to tea vs. coffee) and in the evening there was once dinner. And no matter what Carol prepared or Pete put onto the BBQ, it was excellent: steaks, shish kebabs, taco salad, sloppy joes, local pasties, bratwurst… And as soon as we thought, we’re just absolutely stuffed, there was some kind of dessert coming our way, such that we ate as if we had been starved for weeks: lots of varieties of cookies, plum cake, brownies, icecream, chocolate fondue – you name it.
The food we had in town one day was ok, but there was no way whatsoever to live up to the cooking of Carol. Still, it was the perfect opportunity to combine the trip into Iron River with a trip to the car wash to vacuum our van. And we spent quite a lot of time in the garage trying to get the insides of the van as clean as possible. To make sure that the van is also well maintained, we had one last oil change done and eventually were happy that we were done.
As if all of that would not have been enough, one evening we got a heads up that there was a chance of seeing Northern Lights as south as Michigan. So we checked it out and in fact saw a slight glow towards the north. Nothing absolutely spectacular, but still quite cool. And as it was a nice and clear night, we even got to see the Milky Way as well.

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We could have spent lots more time at the cabin and it felt great to take a break from traveling. We had not done so few miles for ages – probably not even during the last couple of months back in Germany. Still, after ten days it was time to go back to Chicago respectively Glenview.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:38 Archived in USA Tagged food lake sauna kayak hike forest cabin puzzle tub lego waterbike Comments (0)

Aoraki – the cloud piercer

Lake Tepako, Lake Pukaiki, Aoraki / Mt. Cook, Waitaki Waters

semi-overcast 21 °C
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The weather gods were in a good mood and provided us with the perfect weather for a drive into the mountains. There was hardly a cloud on the sky and thanks to the heavy rains and cool temperatures of the last days, the mountain tops were covered in snow.
I can easily admit that good weather is important for me and that I enjoy traveling in sunshine much more that in bleak conditions. Quite frankly, on a cloudy day we might not have even realized how beautiful our surroundings are. The road was windy and before too long we reached the higher reaches of the rather dry Canterbury Plains. And surprisingly, we even got to pass a house on the way.

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Lake Tekapo’s waters were stunningly blue. While the famous Church of the Good Shepard was overrun by package tour tourists, just a bit further away there was no one. A bit further on Lake Pukaki glistened in rather turquoise colors with Aoraki / Mt Cook in the backdrop. It was super windy, but thanks to the sun still pleasant.

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On our way towards Aoraki / Mt Cook along Lake Pukaki we stopped a couple of times. With every stop, the scenery changed and seemed to surpass the previous views once more. Eventually we stopped for lunch in one of the smaller viewpoints along the road, as we wanted to take in the view without having to share it with dozens of other people. It was just perfect.

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When we were ready to tackle the road again, we headed right to White Horse Campground and secured a spot for the night. We parked just a few steps from the trailhead for the Hooker Valley Track. What a great day hike: we passed along the Hooker River steadily climbing the valley, crossing three swingbridges in the process and eventually were rewarded with perfect views of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.

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The only sad note about the track was the realization that – just like in Canada – also here the glaciers are receding rapidly. We had a great view of the Hooker Glacier, but knowing that just a few years ago there was no lake but a much larger glacier did put a damper on the otherwise glorious outing.

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Already in the evening, we noticed how the mountain tops were starting to get covered in clouds, a process that continued the next morning. We headed to the National Park visitor center to learn a bit more about the history, geology and wildlife.
On our drive out of the valley, we did turn back a couple of times and were thankful about the fabulous weather we had the day before. With the clouds the view was not nearly as nice as it had been.
We stopped for lunch in Twizel. A bit further, there was a salmon farm and we got to feed the salmon, which provided us with nice views of the enormous fish.

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The drive from the mountains all the way to the sea was very pleasant. We passed along rivers, some hydro power stations, through quaint towns and lots of agricultural land with countless sheep. At the very end of the Waitaki valley, not far from the beach we stayed in a pleasant campground.
There we also met the first Romanians since we’re on the road. And while they were super nice, I was utterly disappointed that I have forgotten so much of my Romanian in the last five years. While still some time ago, I was talking Romanian any time I tried to address someone in French or Spanish, it seems that I am overdue for some practice.
The next morning, we enjoyed sunshine and pleasant temperatures. Max played with his new friend Sam from Berlin, while our Sam headed to the beach and was amazed about the dunes of stones.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged salmon park church mountain lake national hike swingbridge Comments (0)

In sandfly habitat

Manapouri, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Wanaka

semi-overcast 18 °C
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After two weeks of touring the South Island we started turning Northwards. Our first stop was at Lake Manapouri. After a pleasant lunch in the sunshine, sheltered from the wind, we took a hike along the lake shore. The lake is beautifully set surrounded by mountains. We considered ourselves lucky to see it in sunshine. With the wind the lake was white capped.

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While the lake in Te Anau did look very similar, the town is certainly much more developed and more touristy. After a couple of days of staying at rather basic campgrounds, it was time for luxurious campground again. We enjoyed all amenities: the jumping pillow, wifi, hot showers, a large kitchen and a very comfortable cozy TV lounge.
Most likely all of those luxuries were the cause for our late start heading off to the Milford Sound. But maybe we were just a bit lazy that day. We did not get far before being stopped by the police – just like every other vehicle leaving towards the Sound. We’re not absolutely sure what the reason for the controls were. At least in our case, the officer exclusively checked if Max was restrained in an approved child seat (thanks again, Carol!) and if I was buckled in in my middle seat as well. We were all ok and allowed to continue without further ado – contrary to the busload of Asians in the other lane.
The landscape we passed through, reminded us a lot of the Alps – but without all the villages you’d have every couple of kilometers in Austria or Switzerland. It might have looked like that maybe some 100 years in the past.

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The Mirror Lakes were beautiful indeed. It was just important to make sure that the ducks are not in the way of creating the perfect reflection with their ripples on the water.

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We had planned to hike to Key Summit along the first kilometers of the Routeburn Track. For the first part through the wonderful native forest it was still cloudy. Once we reached the treeline, we were greeted by sunshine and enjoyed beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

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After that highlight of our day, we continued the drive to Milford Sound. Luckily, we were heading there so late in the day, that we were not bothered too much by the traffic. At the traffic light before Homer Tunnel there was not even a line in front of us. Luckily the tunnel is one-way only. Despite the missing traffic on a second lane, it is still quite an adventure, considering how narrow, steep and badly lit it is with water dripping down all along.
The tunnel delivered us right to the lower end of the Cleddau Valley headwall and from there the road twisted and turned losing altitude quickly and eventually opening up to the Milford Sound. By then the initial sunshine had disappeared and we wandered beneath heavy rain clouds along the foreshore of the Sound (which actually is not a sound, but a fjord). Our guidebook specified three typical views of Mitre Peak. I'm afraid we missed the 'best' scenario in bright sunshine. But at least we even got to observe the 'mystic' Milford turning into the 'rainy' Milford.

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By the time, we reached the boat terminal, it started drizzling, so we opted against a cruise. We decided to head back in the rain to our home for the night, at the Cascade Creek campground. At the wait for the traffic light at Homer Tunnel to turn green, we even got to see some keas, the famous mountain parrots.

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We parked in the spot we had reserved earlier in the day, but were not too impressed to realize that some other campers must have exchanged our anyhow dilapidated camp chairs against their even worse ones. The friendly round-the-world travelers from UK and USA that parked close to us claimed not to know anything about the chairs, so we decided to believe them and to rather join them in lighting a fire in the rain.
The next morning, the changeable weather was fine again and after a hike to Gunn Lake through an ancient gnarly forest, we enjoyed the nice drive back to Te Anau.

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From there we continued our journey to Queenstown. The drive was nice and there were only few other cars on the road.

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In contrast to the drive, Queenstown itself greeted us with a major traffic jam – probably the worst we’ve had since Yellowstone. At first, we assumed that there was a festival or something special going on, but the cashier at the supermarket confirmed to us that this is just what Queenstown is like. Passing through town, we noticed hordes of people forming long queues outside the restaurants and were happy that we had opted for a campground outside of town at Twelve Mile Delta.
Twelve Mile Delta is located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu along the road that leads to Glenorchy. That is also where the Routeburn Track ends, part of which we had hiked a couple of days earlier. We had driven 258 km to get to the campground from our last base at Cascade Creek – even though the direct distance is merely 44km.
The campground there is not only a good base to explore Queenstown, but is also nicely set along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. In addition, it features one of the filming locations of Lord of the Rings just a few minutes of hiking away. The Ithilien camp, where Frodo, Sam and Gollum watch a battle with Oliphants, was turned here. We tried to find it, but quite frankly it did require some imagination. For sure it is another good reason to watch the trilogy again at some stage.

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Despite the fact that we’re simply no city people, we do like to wander in towns from time to time. E.g. we had really enjoyed the couple of days we spent in Perth or Sydney. But a crowded town, full of tourists is definitively not at all what we enjoy. Consequently, we passed through Queenstown without further stops (except those caused by the heavy traffic).
After a quick stop at the Shotover River to see one of the jetboats pass by, we headed to the Kawarau Bridge. This is where AJ Hackett started the first commercial bungy jump in 1988 from the then 108-year-old bridge. We enjoyed watching not only the people jumping, but also those cheering from the viewpoint next to the bridge. Sam was tempted to give it a go. After seeing that this would lighten his wallet by 195 NZD, he decided that for that money he’d be able to rent a motor bike for a couple of hours which seems a much better value vs. the thrill of a couple of moments.

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On our way towards Wanaka, we got to drive along a nice river gorge, see some of the Lord of the Rings scenery, passed by the remains of former goldfields and orchards and vineyards.

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We immediately liked Wanaka. We found a parking spot right next to the lake. As it was very windy, we were happy that the skatepark was set back a bit vs. the lake. While Max worked off his energy, we took advantage of having a fairly good network connection to upload some pictures and another blog entry.

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Eventually we headed off along the shores of beautiful Lake Hawea. The 6km gravel road to the Kidd’s Bush Campsite was definitively worth the effort. We were rewarded with a beautiful spot, got to do some people watching and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the lake.

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Talking with the camp host, we realized that there were so many locals around, as they enjoyed a long weekend. On Monday, February 6th New Zealand is celebrating Waitangi Day, their national holiday commemorating the Treaty.
Many people had arrived with their boats in tow and they were taking them out onto the lake. Some just for fun, others trying to catch some trout or salmon and others pulling their kids or friends behind on waterskis, couches or inner tubes. And despite the campground being full, there was a really nice atmosphere - especially as the sun started setting.

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A beautiful spot indeed... And while it would have been very inviting to stay there for another night, we wanted to take advantage of the excellent weather forecast for the next day to get over the Haast Pass and to reach the West Coast.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:52 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lake cruise bungy waterfall tourists sound pass jetboat hole fjord sandfly Comments (0)

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